Apple launches iOS 8 with new app developer tools and features, improvements to Siri, iMessage

During its annual developer conference, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) took the wraps off the newest version of its tablet and smartphone operating system, iOS 8. The platform includes a number of new functions and features for iPad and iPhone users, and a wide range of new services and tools for iOS app developers. Specifically, Apple announced iOS 8 will allow applications to interact with each other, a feature that has long been available to Android app developers and long sought after by iOS app developers.

apple tim cook ios8

Apple's Tim Cook introduces iOS 8.

Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked off Apple's event with a look at the company's iOS progress. He said the company has shipped 800 million iOS devices to date, including 100 million iPod touch devices, 200 million iPads and 500 million iPhones. Cooks said the company managed to acquire 130 million users last year who were new to Apple products. "Many of these customers were switchers from Android," Cook said. "Many of them had bought an Android phone--by mistake--and then had sought a better experience and a better life."

Further underscoring the battle between iOS and Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android, Cooks said that 89 percent of Apple's iOS devices run the newest version of the operating system, but he said only 9 percent of Android devices are running Google's latest version of the OS, 4.4 or KitKat. "Over a third of their (Google's) customers are running a version of Android from four years ago. That's like ancient history," Cook said.

Apple said iOS 8 will be available in the fall for iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s.

As part of the company's unveiling of iOS 8, Apple announced a wide range of new tools and services available to its iOS developers. The offerings are all geared toward making it easier for developers to build iOS applications and making those applications easier to find and use by customers.

Perhaps most interestingly, Apple announced "extensibility," which will allow iOS applications to share data and interact with one another. Previously, Apple applications were prevented from connecting with other applications on a user's device, but with iOS 8 Apple said it would remove some of those barriers. The result will allow a photo editing app to, for example, make use of functions inside another photo editing app. Or an app vendor like Pintrest will be able to add its service to the list of sharing options inside iOS 8.

Apple also announced its new HealthKit program, which is part of the company's move into the mobile healthcare space. Click here for that story.

Aside from extensibility, Apple also announced:

  • Improvements to its App Store that will help users more easily find applications. Apple will also support "app bundles," where developers can sell groups of applications at a discount. And Apple will allow app developers to create short videos of their apps that can be viewed by App Store shoppers.
  • It will allow third-party keyboards on iOS 8, and those keyboards can be used across the entire platform.
  • TouchID services for developers. The action will allow developers to access the fingerprint scanner on Apple devices for user authentication and other services.
  • HomeKit, which is an attempt by Apple to bring some "rationality" into the home automation space by creating guidelines for companies that are building remotely controlled lights, door locks, thermostats and other home automation programs. The goal, Apple executives said, is to prevent confusion among users who must currently access separate apps for each of their home automation products. Apple said that, via HomeKit, iOS users will be able to use Siri's voice recognition service to say "get ready for bed" to automatically have their doors locked, lights dimmed and garage door shut, for example.
  • CloudKit, which is a new service from Apple that will store applications' data. The goal, Apple said, is to make it easier for developers to build cloud-based services for their iOS applications.
  • Metal, which Apple said is a new technology that works with the OpenGL specification that will essentially speed up the performance of graphically intensive iOS games. Apple noted that companies like Unity and Epic Games are supporting the effort, and the result could be console-quality iOS games.
  • Swift, a new programming language for iOS developers. Apple said Swift will sit alongside Objective C and Python and will make developing iOS applications easier and quicker.

Pointing to the wide range of new services and initiatives within iOS 8, Apple's Cook said that "this is something only Apple can do."

Apple also showed a video supporting iOS developers during its conference.

Although Apple's developer's conference is primarily geared toward application developers, Apple also used the event to highlight features and services scheduled to be available to end users. Specifically, in iOS 8 Apple announced iCloud Drive, which is essentially a Dropbox-style service that will allow users to store and access files saved in iCloud. The company also showed off improvements to its iMessage service that will allow users to quickly add voice and video notes to iMessage threads. And Apple announced QuickType, an improvement to its iOS keyboard that suggests words or phrases that a user might wish to type--a service that appears similar to the keyboard functions on BlackBerry's (NASDAQ:BBRY) BB10 operating system. Apple also said its Siri service will be able to recognize songs and purchase content from iTunes.

Also in iOS 8: interactive notifications, which will, for example, allow users to respond to iMessages from their lock screen. Apple also said that app developers will be able to build widgets into the iOS notification shade--for example, eBay can add a widget to the notification screen that will allow users to increase their bid on items they wish to purchase, all without visiting the eBay iOS app.

Interestingly, Apple also showed off its operating system update for its Mac computers, dubbed Yosemite, that the company said will help unify the experience between iOS devices and OS X devices. For example, Mac users will be able to answer SMS messages and voice calls from their desktop computers if their iPhone is nearby.

For more:
- see these three releases from Apple
- see this The Verge live blog

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